Miami, Fla. June 01, 2002 - Do you believe in luck? That's the only way to explain what happened to David Clarke and Gary Manheimer, two of BGT Partners's three principals, on Oct. 8, 1999. Heading out of the office that day, they faced a daunting realization: Their fast-paced technological business-development firm was bursting out of its 1,200sq.ft. office. If they didn't move the 12-person company fast, they'd be forced to compromise the momentum they'd worked hard to create since 1996.
As they approached their cars, a "For Rent" sign caught their attention on a building across the street from their office in Miami's Design District. Making a beeline for it, they were amazed to discover that the entire second floor-a 5,000sq.ft. space that Clarke calls "an open canvas, full of potential" –was available. They signed a lease within days, began renovating the space less than a week later, and moved in before year's end-a whirlwind three months. By acting decisively, BGT, which now boasts a staff of more than 40 in Miami and works with 100 developers throughout the U.S., South America, Europe and Asia, was able to keep pace with client demand without skipping a beat.
Because BGT's role is to find innovative ways to use technology to help companies formulate business strategy; create high-value brand identity, products and services; and promote new business opportunities and initiatives, its office had to personify its cutting edge image. The owners chose the moniker BGT Partners because they wanted a strong name that would leave a lasting impression on clients including Bacardi, IBM, Lucent Technologies, Toyota and Walt Disney Co.
Another stroke of luck was that Clarke is a trained architect. Before founding BGT with Gary and Seth Manheimer, he designed spaces for such businesses as Hugo Boss, Planet Reebok, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Not having to allocate the time or money to educate an architect about the firm's needs made the process exceedingly efficient and economical.
Clarke immediately devised a floor-plan with a large lobby, open workspace area, several closed executive offices, a large conference room, a multipurpose meeting area, and a gallery/lounge area adjacent to a kitchen. Since the goal was to minimize construction time, the crew, which sometimes numbered as many as 12, began constructing walls, custom-built desks and other furniture even before Clarke finalized the details.
The budget of $30/sq.ft. was set for build-out and furnishings, with an additional $40,000 for workstations, printers, servers, wiring and lighting. "We saved money by purchasing much of the furniture and materials directly," notes Clarke, who went to Steelcase, Herman Miller and IKEA for the furniture and to industrial-supply manufacturers and distributors like Granger for wall units.
Custom-designing workstations to meet the firm's hi-tech needs was critical. "The desks were designed extra deep to allow for multiple 21in. monitors, and they were wired for multiple computer stations," Clarke says," My rationale was that employees could move around the office with their laptops to better collaborate on projects."
Each workspace was specifically designed for the person working in it. Clarke also asked "some of our more creative employees to design individual spaces, including the server rooms, lounge areas and restrooms. They had a great time with their projects, and it allowed them to contribute to the office's overall success."
Clarke chose to salvage the building's natural wood floor, although it was badly warped and stained. Built as a bordello in the 1930s, the space was last used to build and showcase fireplace mantels. "We sealed the stains into the floor as proud battle scars, paying homage to a building that has lasted so long in prefabricated Miami," Clarke notes.
HIGHLIGHTING COLOR AND ART
Rather than follow the hi-tech trend of minimizing color, Clarke chose to highlight the office with "vivid, exciting colors to draw people in and make them feel immediately at home. Red sconces accent yellow and blue walls and bring bright colors into the office and work areas." Gray and ochre upholstered desk chairs blend well with cherry-stained desks, finished with raw wooden legs and vibrant colors accents.
"It was always our intention to use the office walls as a revolving art exhibit for local artists," Clarke says. "The entire office has an intricate system of track lighting to provide the best possible light for the artwork."
Artwork is featured in several areas, but nowhere more spectacularly than in the lobby and the lounge. In both spaces the work of artist David Lebatard, known professionally as LEBO, takes center stage. In the lobby, a mural with his characteristically whimsical, thick-black-line figures covers one huge wall, while the opposite wall features the logos of BGT clients. But LEBO isn't only a prominent local artist: he's also BGT's resident artist, and the company's 400sq.ft. lounge serves as a personal art gallery.
Sharing space with LEBO creates a mix of ideas, which appeals to Clarke. "We collaborate on many projects," he says, "and the symbiotic relationship between technology and art works well for both of us."
This symbiosis continues in other areas of the building. A large painting by New York City-based artist Neil Simon graces the firm's specially configured conference room. The table has built-in connections and terminals linked to the office's network infrastructure so it can support multiple computers.
"That's especially helpful," Clarke notes. "During production meetings and beta rollouts it allows multiple guests to work in the same environment simultaneously." The room is equipped with a projector and can be fitted with cameras for videoconferencing. The overhead metal-wing light fixture, which Clarke calls the room's centerpiece, is raised when the projector is being used.
Other special features in the conference room include a wall made of translucent Lexan, which is also used throughout the office to bring more light into the already bright and airy space. There's also a revolving door, specially coded for staffers. One side of the door is finished with galvanized steel, the other with highly polished wood. "Employees know that when the steel side is showing, there are high-level meetings going on inside and to proceed with caution," Clarke notes. When they see the wood side, they know the room's vacant and available.
The space offers yet another artistic drawing card: The building's entrance is inlaid with Spanish mosaic on the interior of the columns and in an enormous tableau above the huge iron gates framing the entrance. Inside the building, a combination of handpainted Spanish and Cuban tile decorates the wall and staircase leading to BGT's office on the second floor. "People have actually knocked on our door to see if they could purchase the tiles from us," Clarke says.
"It's definitely a designer's dream to be able to design the environment that he works in," Clarke says. But it's also a huge advantage when that designer is able to anticipate and accommodate a firm's needs and artistic sensibilities.
And BGT's successful relocation has wider implications for Miami's Design District. By being the first technology-design company to return to the area-which had been deserted in the mid-1980s when the Design Center of the Americas was built outside Fort Lauderdale-BGT helped revitalize the district.
HOW New York City editor Susan E. Davis has written about graphic design for 16 years. (212) 989.6756; email@example.com
Reprinted with permission from the author andHOW magazine, April 2002.